“Why do I feel that the more I ‘wake up’ the more dead I feel?” lamented a dear friend over the holidays. He, like so many others is realizing that the great Adam Smith consumption of the human soul – exchanging passionate, purposeful engagement for a paltry salaried existence as a consumable unit of finite production – is bankrupt. And, along with the disillusioned hordes of similarly trafficked, transacted lives, he was struggling with the seduction of the post-modern puff-pastry spirituality which celebrates the birthing of a new humanity with rhinestone encrusted rouge optic consciousness. This oily elixir can be purchased by attending just the right number of over-priced weekend retreats where purveyors of positivism piously promote panaceas for the pernicious proclivities of the pedestrian populace. Like Epaon inspired penances in 517 (later laundered in the fourth Lateran Council), this vacuous promise of a post-enlightened effervescence seems, all too often, to smack into a very different reality. Namely, the more aware, awake and turquoise you become, the more dizzyingly seasick you feel.
Over the course of the last several months, I’ve been intrigued by the frequency with which I’ve encountered the Deepak Chopra credited “Caterpillar Effect”. In glorious simplicity, this metaphor of the potential for humanity goes something like this…
The caterpillar eats ravenously and it starts to ‘die’… then some cells (creative “imaginal cells”) imagine a new future … they do some ninja moves on immune cells in a primordial soup inside the carcass of the caterpillar … they tag team into making a beautiful butterfly and, viola, flight!
You can hear the extended play story here. You see, if just enough creative imaginal cells get together, the metaphor implies, we’ll have a new emergent, metamorphic experience on Earth. And, the illusion invites, there’s something aspirationally beautiful about this experience. You know, it’s a butterfly.
Which got me thinking; “I wonder how a post-modern guru has been credited with this phenomenon and why so many people think that butterflies are a good metaphor for the next phase of humanity?” So, like I do, I tried to find out what metamorphic biologist unleashed this timely narrative which has become the transcendent ideal of New Agers, Birthers, and Enlighten-nexters. Turns out, we can thank Chester I. Bliss (damn, who would have thought we could have had such a perfectly apropos last name?) who, in 1926 unleashed Deepak’s Imaginal Imaginarium in a paper entitled “Temperature Characteristics for Prepupal Development in Drosophila Melanogaster,” published in the Journal of General Physiology. Oops! Not very recent. Not very with it. And, hold on, isn’t Drosophila Melanogaster the fruit fly? Why, yes it is. And Bliss cited the original work on imaginal disks studied in metaphorically less suitable bugs like the blow fly and the apple maggot. I wonder how throngs of enlightenment seekers would ooh and aah if they’d hear their transformation heralded as blow flies and apple maggots?
Now we can all chuckle about this little selectivity in our speciation of transcendent metaphors and pass it off as of little consequence. But that’s before you take into account my friend and the thousands like him who, having gorged themselves on the leafy foliage of a system that rewards gluttonous consumption, pupate into a nutritious gooey ooze and imagine waking up to beautiful wings warming in the sunlight ready to waft freely on the lilting breezes in a post euphoric reward for having transmografied. Imagine all the people… yes, go ahead and hum the song, … waking up to find no wings, no breeze, and overcast skies. Imagine finding out that when you awaken, you apprehend the cost of your unconsidered consumption. Imagine finding out that your monetary system – the same money that you paid the enlightened expert at your retreat – has led to the enslavement of a humanity you didn’t recognize before. Imagine finding out that the minerals and energy that you use are costing the lives of thousands who are murdered and displaced by corporations who feed your 401(k).
Might I propose, a more mundane, possibly more appropriate metaphor more aptly aligned with the consciousness that our species evidences on a far more reliable basis? And for this proposal, might I remind you that in every culture that has perpetually inhabited their homeland for over 5 millenia, it is the reptile – turtles, crocodiles, and serpents – that are the metaphor for spiritual source and transformation. These animals, far more like the typical experience of human awakening don’t molder into a soup only to emerge in a glorious, fragile butterfly. No, when the skin that served one phase of their existence no long serves its purpose, they molt. They scrape and slough against rocks and obstacles breaking loose the flaking, dead encrustations that keep them from moving into life with the flexibility and dynamism they need and, when they’ve removed the last old dead skin, they’re a more beautiful, fresh version of themselves – just improved.
Let’s turn the 2,000 years of anti-serpent mythology on its head and start embracing the wisdom of the ancients. Last time I check, National Geographic has some amazing pictures of lizards eating butterflies… but that’s another blog post.